on March 10, 2011
Dr. Randal Rauser's new book, You're Not as Crazy As I Think, comes to us as the latest of a round of recent books on how Christians should conduct themselves in the pluralistic world that lies outside the four walls of their local church (e.g., see D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited; Os Guinness, The Case for Civility; Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith; James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World; David VanDrunen, Living in God's Two Kingdoms; and) In this book, Rauser's task is to deal with how Christians ought to think about and pursue debate with those outside their theological tradition, whether religious or secular outsiders. The light needed for guidance is, simply, a love and concern for truth. Rauser is concerned that many Christians, who should be concerned with truth, are more concerned with image protection and belief preservation over against truth. While Rauser does briefly address the New Atheists (as something of a mirror image of dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists), the target audience is unquestionably those Rauser considers to be (broadly) within his religious tradition, evangelical Christians. Rauser's book contains many points with which to agree, and many with which to disagree. In this review, I'll simply summarize the book's contents without offering commentary.
Chapter one is titled, "Who Needs truth When You've Got Jesus?" Rauser notes that those outside evangelicalism are at least suspicious that evangelicals have not simply "abandoned the virtuous pursuit of truth for the sake of defending their own beliefs, true or not." Rather, it suspected by those at the table that evangelicals "are really more concerned with perpetuating their own sectarian ideology" (3). Rauser sets forth the thesis of the book: apart from the above impressions people have, are those impressions true? Rauser says he "will argue that it is indeed often true, certainly more than evangelicals are typically willing to admit." This thesis leads Rauser to a second thesis, a proposed solution. That is, "we need to be doers of the truth and not hearers only." This culminates in Rauser stating the goal for the whole book: "to challenege evangelicals, other Christians, and everbody else to develop characters of truth that are in harmony with their proclamations of truth" (4).
Rauser next introduces us to "Ted," a fictional-but-realistic character he'll use to give examples of just what Rauser finds wrong with how the majority of evangelicals interact with others at the pluralistic dinner table. Ted is not supposed to be a straw man caricature, but the paradigmatic evangelical layman. He's well-educated, thoughtful, attends church, studies his bible, loves his job but also witnesses to non-Christians, and is an amiable fellow, a "genuinely nice guy" (5). The rest of the chapter is an overview of the rest of the book, with Rauser wanting to introduce the idea that
commitment to the truth means much more than dogged adherence to the set of statements we happen to believe. A commitment to truth is also a character-forming commitment to know reality as it is revealed in the world of our interaction with others. So, a close-minded refusal to hear the truth in others is incompatible with being people of truth. The real person of truth is one who expresses a genuine willingness to listen to the other as an equal conversation partner. (8)
Chapter two is titled, "Truth is Who You Are." In this chapter Rauser focuses on the nature of truth as: (1) a relationship correct statements bear to reality and (2) a relationship that we bear to Jesus Christ (14). Rauser briefly argues for a correspondence theory of truth, and clearly this is vital for his project. Rauser then claims that the Bible says truth not only applies to statements but to persons too. So we need to seek to be true persons. Ultimately, this means we need to become like Jesus, who is the truth. "Thus, we become the truth only insofar as we conform to Christ" (20). Rauser looks at what Jesus' truthful character is like (passionate, conviction, simplicity and/or clarity).
This is fine and good but it's problematic for us to model ourselves after this since we're not Jesus. Rauser looks at Christians who have thought the more passionate, convinced, and simple a person was, the more in tune with the truth he was, noting that this has been a mistake and has led to unsavory consequences. Because we are fallen, we need to appreciate nuance, complexity, and self-criticism. Because we are fallen, the passion, conviction, and clarity Jesus had tends to work out in us a kind of pragmatism, full of sensationalistic urban legends told from the pulpit with conviction and passion all in the hopes of converting the lost or firing up the masses.
"If Jesus Were Not The Truth, He'd be the First Person to Tell You to Look Elsewhere," is the title of chapter three. Rauser discusses confirmation bias (i.e., psychologists and others have pointed out humans have a tendency to build cases in a one-sided fashion, evidence for their beliefs are treated less critically than evidence against their beliefs, etc) as an impediment to our becoming truthful persons. He makes the helpful point, however, that it is healthy and appropriate to trust some our beliefs even if some evidence against them surfaces. Thus, the problem isn't with "confirmation bias per se, but rather with its inappropriate application." But, this doesn't mean we can trust all of our beliefs "come what may" (20). Rauser offers some commonsense advice about how to avoid confirmation bias and concludes by showing the existence of confirmation bias when Christians think about and respond to others regarding the biggest challenge to faith in God: the problem of evil.
Chapter four is titled, "Not Everything is Black and White." The discussion here is on brainwashing and indoctrination. The focus is on "sweeping aside sweeping judgments," and "unchecked confirmation and binary oppositions" which "leave us terribly vulnerable to indoctrination" (56). Rasuer attempts to show how neglecting these things opens the door for possible indoctrination or getting brainwashed by a charismatic leader of a cult. Rauser finds three characteristics common to those who are indoctrinated or subject to brainwashing. They are (i) inability to think critically about core beliefs because said beliefs are deemed off-limits, (ii) beliefs are protected by making us of absolute binary opposition between truth and error, and (iii) a sense of crisis that demands immediate action (57). To flesh out his ideas, Rauser first discusses a case of brainwashing into a cult, how atheists, especially the "new atheists," exhibit classic symptoms of indoctrination and brainwashing, and, lastly, how some Christians do. Rasuer then tries to show that Christianity doesn't foster an atmosphere ripe for making indoctrinated believers, contrary to the suggestion of some atheists.
"Those I Disagree With Are Probably Not Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immoral," is the subject of chapter five. The gist of the chapter is over how we often marginalize others who don't hold our views according to one (or more) of the above categories. If they're not cognitively incompetent, they're morally incompetent (in some cases, both). These assumptions play out disastrously in the market place of ideas, fostering distrust on both sides and inhibiting the quest for truth. Most people who disagree with us are not insane or immoral, they hold to their view for sincere reasons, simply unconvinced of the other side. Also, many are not immoral for disagreeing, even if they're wrong. They usually disagree out of honest and sincere misunderstandings or ignorance of relevant facts, seldom do they persist in their falsehoods out of pride or a sense of intellectual superiority. But sometimes this is the case, and it could be true of us too. We may defend our beliefs vigorously out of a sense of pride and refusal to admit we're wrong. So, rather than setting out to "destroy" the other side, we need to lower our guns and let cooler heads prevail. But, all sides are guilty of the above. What should we do? "The only way to break this kind of standoff is by taking the risk of lowering our own rhetorical guns" (p. 90).
Chapter six is titled, "This Conversation Could Change Your Life." It begins with a dilemma. What if someone on a plane knew you were a Christian and said that he would like to discuss Christianity with you and warned you he would say something which would cause you to lose your faith. Would you engage? The problem is that the man simply said you will lose your faith, not that you will lose it because he gives you a good reason to or because of the truth. So the dilemma presents a downside in engaging in the exchange of ideas with people. People who seek to form their character to the truth--to Jesus--run the risk of changing their beliefs, even exchanging them for false ones. But this is a risk truth-seekers should take. In pursuing the above dilemma, Rauser tells us that the goal of "this chapter is to explore the dynamic that arises when we opt to [engage in discussions that could change our life, even if you convert to a false belief] by entering into the risk of a vulnerable conversation" (102).
He models our conversations with others on conversations between lovers and/or husbands and wives. Arguing (not contentious disputing) is not bad, indeed it's vital. But so is listening. Listening intently and deeply, making sure you understand the other's point. This is what commitment to truth looks like. Rauser ends with the story of a missionary who eventually lost his faith because he became intimately connected with the tribe he was witnessing to. This is the risk of pursuing truth. If you hide inside your house, though, you fail to reach others and help them find the truth. If you don't attempt to have the husband/wife type of conversations mentioned above, but just ram your beliefs down others' throats, not listening to what they say, you will not be formed to the likeness of the truthful Christ, and you will also maybe miss truths in the interest of protecting what you think is true.
Chapters seven through ten are, respectively: "Not all Liberal Christians are Heretics," "Not all Darwinists are Monkeys," Not All Animal Rights Activists Are Wackos," and "Not All Atheists Are Fools." The goal here is fairly self-explanatory. With the first chapter, liberals have dropped historic Christian dogma (like a literal resurrection) for sincere reasons, finding the available evidence against traditional dogma overwhelming. They have not wanted to move toward atheism, and could not drop all their theistic beliefs. The main point is that the evidence for the historic claims is no so strong that no rational person could resist it, and liberals have denied them from a standpoint of sincere and honest inquiry. Moreover, there may be a deeper connection between Christianity and action than there is between Christianity and dogma. The second chapter basically makes the case for reconciling loving Jesus and holding to evolution--again, for the strong reasons in its favor and not out stupidity or hatred of God. Rauser tries to show that Darwinian evolution isn't at odds with Genesis 1-3, the imago Dei, and human value. Next, animal rights activists (at least some of them) are said to not be wicked or fools but engaging in what they do out of compassion, even conviction of biblical texts. Animal rights activism, it is argued, represents a morally justified position (183), and that while the Bible may allow for eating meat, it may be that vegetarianism is the ideal, heavenly state. So perhaps some may decide to forego eating meat "as a hopeful anticipation of that future state" (185). The last chapter is similar to the previous ones. Atheists (at least some of them) are not atheists out of ignorance or rebellion, but have what they take to be justified reasons for unbelief, like the problem of evil. Or, others may be atheists because the only God they know of is the silly, petulant, hateful God of some Christians, not the God of the Bible. Aren't those atheists justified in their atheism?
You're Not as Crazy as I Think ends with the conclusion, "Truth is Enough." This means "we must always choose truth, whatever, whenever, however, and in whomever it manifests itself" (208). Rauser wants Christians to plunge into conversations with others, taking the risk. He wants them to do so without weapons but with an "invitation for coffee and a willingness to talk and listen."
on September 7, 2011
There's an unrest haunting contemporary philosophy: Christian Philosophers (swayed by Plantinga). Can big-thinking be rescued by theists? Is philosophy on the way down as Stephen Hawking claims, and, if so, what should be done about it (if anything)?
The Christian theists, and Randal Rauser in particular, have a reasonably vigorous perspective to argue. Philosophy is stimulating and beneficial, they explain, because theism is the ultimate explanation concerning countless concepts as well as applications within human experience: reason, ethics, beauty, and purpose. And in "You're Not as Crazy As I Think" professor Randal Rauser provides an interesting volume that aims to stir-up a passion for truth as the reader learns how to engage rivals in honest dialogue concerning many of life's ultimate questions.
The current task, therefore, is, as Rauser contends, to make vital concepts and models not only consequential in people's lives--to instill comprehension and passion-but to revive civility within interpersonal communication in touching the most significant topics people should discuss. In this the good professor winsomely succeeds.
Additionally the author boldly, yet judiciously, refutes the inconsistent scholarship and erratic notions of several of the New Atheists.
Men and women in our culture, and Christians specifically, must aim to behave graciously in pluralistic modernity as we learn to listen more carefully and effectively to our interlocutors. Due to the reputation of Evangelicals and the rise of the contentious New Atheists the rational atmosphere has grown more vitriolic. Randal Rauser exemplifies the Christian thinker as pleasant, but tough-minded; analytic, yet charitable. Christians who want to cultivate their minds in the submission to Christ will find it hard to find a better coach, or a superior book for this important undertaking. I review numerous books, and this is one I not only enjoyed, but from which I learned a great deal. This work I recommend even though the author holds a different theological perspective and he employs a different apologetic method than I. Likewise, I disagree with some important notions he advances (predominately concerning some of the content in the chapters on Liberalism and Atheism); nonetheless the precision, depth, and care evinced within its pages is informative and instructive.
The core thesis of this volume works as a necessary wake-up call for the inconsistent church in the West. God bequeathed us hearts and minds for a reason-it is crucial that we become more like the Lord Jesus in the way we think, act, and communicate.
* Who Needs Truth When You've Got Jesus
* Truth is Who You Are
* Not Everything is Black and White
* This Conversation Can Change Your Life
* Not All Liberal Christians are Heretics
* Not All Darwinists are Monkeys
* Conclusion: Truth is Enough
* and More. 208 pages.
In Chapter 1: Rauser opines: "Even if people have the impression that Evangelicals are willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of their beliefs, surely the deeper question is to ask whether this is in fact true. In this book I will argue that it is indeed true, certainly more so than Evangelicals are typically willing to admit" (p. 4). The solution is to become embodiments of truth as those who speak the truth, discuss the truth, and become doers of the truth. Rauser then declares he aims to: "challenge ... Christians and everybody else to develop characters of truth that are in harmony with their proclamations of truth" (p. 4).
Rauser, for instructional purposes, utilizes an often kindly fictional "Ted" as a typical evangelical who has a propensity to marginalize those who disagree with his views. Rauser uses Ted as a means to picture the incorrect way to engage others since many of us (Evangelicals) sometimes miss the mark in similar ways-this appears to me to be an effective teaching tool.
In Chapter 2 the author discusses truth: its definition, epistemic classification, relationship, and application. Rauser adheres to a brand of the correspondence theory of truth as he argues that truth matches that which is actual. Rauser quotes Aristotle: "To say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true" (pp. 14-15). Professor Rauser then adds a short exposition on the definition of truth: "While Aristotle probably didn't win any poetry contests with this definition, at least it has the virtue of being to the point and containing more good sense than the more extreme postmodernists: truth consists in speaking accurately the way things are. This has been called the correspondence theory of truth because it roots truth in the correspondence between a statement and the state of affairs that the statement describes" (p. 15). He adds this footnote citing Craig and Moreland: "Those who reject the correspondence theory either take their own utterances to be true in the correspondence sense or they do not. If the former, then those utterances are self-defeating. If the latter, there is no reason to accept them, because one cannot take their utterances to be true" ("Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview"). Furthermore, Rauser adds that "scripture assumes it" [the correspondence theory]; he augments this affirmation with some pertinent biblical support.
Beyond that, truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Rauser admonishes that as followers of Christ, Christians need to not only know the truth but live out the truth as part of who we are. Evangelicals should thus strive to be truth bearing people: true persons conforming to Jesus Christ. Forasmuch as truth is a "quality that applies not only to statements but to persons" (p. 6).
Ultimately, this means we need to become like Jesus, who is the Truth.
Professor Rauser then has a fine section concerning Confirmation Bias ("one-sided case-building process," Nickerson). This is a concept related to self-deception whereas researchers have discovered that people tend to perceive and embrace evidence that confirms their beliefs and ignore the contrary evidence (only Christ is free from Confirmation Bias, p. 41). Men and women have the proclivity to think critically regarding the beliefs of others, but put away their critical thinking caps when it comes to their own particular beliefs; they pile up the evidence or quasi evidence against contrary positions but do not treat their own beliefs with similar scrutiny. One must face this Confirmation Bias head on and desire truth above personal epistemic safety as a way to become a truthful person. Sure, there's an important and necessary role for basic beliefs, but nothing should be immune from the light of truth. The Problem of Evil seems to be one of the greatest sources of confirmation bias in Evangelicals. The answer: honesty, humility, truth, and Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4 the author unambiguously maintains that only Jesus Christ is wholly truth as he alone is the only perfectly truthful person. His creatures must always keep in mind that we, due to "binary opposition," can be indoctrinated into error (untrue core beliefs, cultish comportment) as we can fall into self-deceptions. Mainstream Evangelicals are not brainwashed, but blind indoctrination can be a problem that we must be attentive as we learn to perceive it, avoid it, and put it off when we discover it in ourselves; if not our bias will make us sightless and harden us.
So truth eluders are vulnerable to "brainwashing and indoctrination." The remedy: learn to think critically, even regarding beliefs usually considered out of bounds; learn to think not just in tight binary opposites (protecting one's beliefs by assuming that your own position is the "completely good, right, and/or true, while the opposing view is completely evil, wrong, and/or false" p. 7), between black and white, but aim to understand both sides.
And finally do not allow urgency, calamity, or a crisis-mood to produce foundational ideas for your worldview; e.g., the pugnacity of the New Atheists arising from the tragedy of 911. The professor makes a convincing case that the New Atheists display typical symptoms of brainwashing and indoctrination by the enticement of binary oppositional thinking: all things Atheist = good; all things Theistic = bad. On the other hand, Christians often reason and conduct themselves in similar fashion. This is not just inappropriate, but it leads to incivility concerning life's most essential issues. However, Rauser often notes that Christ frequently confronted error and hypocrisy with strong denunciations and powerful arguments (Matthew 23, etc.).
Rauser's goal is to assist Christians to be better truth-seekers. In addition, he often aims his pen at the New Atheists. The author, with fine precision, soundly exposes the bias and epistemic failure of some of the New Atheist thought as he:
* Demonstrates that atheist Daniel Dennett may fall in "large group delusions" (p. 50-51).
* Reveals that combative disbelievers Mills and Harris attempt to inure their "ideology from critical appraisal" by "convincing those who hold it that it is not a set of beliefs in need of defense but rather a common-sense conclusion" (pp. 62-64). The New Atheists do this to keep their atheistic beliefs and assumptions away from "serious scrutiny by functioning as an effective binary opposite..." (p. 64-65).
* Takes Dawkins to task for impetuously dismissing the Ontological Argument and the weighty work of Duns Scotus (pp. 66-67).
* Exposes Hitchens' thoughtless sweeping assertions against theism (pp. 67-68).
* Demonstrates that Dawkins and other New Atheists regularly offer arguments that are easy to falsify (pp. 68-81).
* Discloses that the self-designating term "Brights" for atheists is more than a bit snooty.
Chapter 5 builds on the preceding entries as the reader learns the danger of downgrading others who disagree by calling them loons or idiots. Many theists declare that atheists are cognitively inept and they're morally hopeless; analogously many atheists ascribe the same to theists. However, if one is honest, one will find that many people who clash with us are not crazy or debauched; they just maintain different views because of assorted influences and earnest feelings.
Thus when we find ourselves guarding our beliefs forcefully because of false superiority, pride, and thoughtless predispositions-instead we should pause, ponder, and peacefully attend to what our converser is emphasizing. We should aim to "break this kind of standoff by taking the risk of lowering our own rhetorical guns" (p. 90).
Too often many people descend to the loudest voices that aggressively stress the most black & white views with the greatest contentiousness. If anyone should seek truth and discontinue the caricature of their worldview opponents and promote civility, it is Evangelicals.
Chapter 6 discusses the possible positive or negative consequence when believers take the risk in exchanging ideas with brainy people who hold antithetical views. This risk may reveal that one's core beliefs are false. Thus this exchange may make one vulnerable, but the truth is worth it!
The rest of this work discusses Darwinism, Animal rights, and Liberal theists.
Considering that Rauser is reliably careful and precise, he doesn't emphasize that Liberal theists are correct, but he opines that "it seems to me that the liberal view that places the deeper roots of Christian identity in ethical action at least deserves a closer look." (p. 136). Therefore some of the Liberal accent is not automatically drivel or foul. The author seems to aspire to eliminate the prejudiced barriers that keep Evangelicals from having an honest two-way conversation. Now is a Liberal a heretic? I submit that in whatever way one designates oneself, if one denies the essentials of the historical Christian Faith, then yes they are a heretic. Many Cults are very religiously conservative, but they deny the Trinity, Justification, and other crucial doctrines of the Faith; thus they, and others who reject the same indispensible truths, are outside the faith; whether they are religiously liberal or conservative.
This is a volume of subtlety, simplicity, and influence. Interlacing memorable anecdotes and illustrations with flowing prose and striking observations, Randal Rauser offers needed solutions for the head and for the heart: personal, engaging, and clear. In the end the answers are practical and simple to employ for both the intellect and sentiments, with the added actuality that truth is of utmost importance since Jesus is the Truth. But truth sometimes comes at a cost, just as anything of real value does.
This paperback is recommended for budding apologists, people who engage in internet discussions (atheists and theists), ministers, educators, as well as students.
This book by Dr. Randal Rauser is refreshing in several ways as a reminder that we need more dialogue between opposing sides, rather than more vitriol.
In this important book Rauser comes down hard on evangelicals and atheists alike, and I agree with him quite a bit on both scores. He is mainly writing to evangelicals though. There is way too much vitriol between atheists and evangelicals, he argues. We're not as crazy as each side tends to think of the opposition. Let me highlight some of what he says.
Chapter One: Who Needs Truth When You've Got Jesus?
To evangelicals Rauser claims they are "willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of their beliefs" (p. 4). "Time and again we (evangelicals) have revealed ourselves to be more interested in defending and perpetrating our beliefs on a given issue than in discerning where the truth really lies. Often we have preferred to secure our present beliefs against challenge rather than to embrace the open risk of real dialogue." (p. 4). His goal in the book is "to challenge evangelicals, other Christians, and everybody else to develop characters of truth that are in harmony with their proclamation of truth" (p. 4). In the first part (chapters 2-6) he identifies "core assumptions and practices that tend to inhibit our pursuit of truth, as well as aid us in realizing the pursuit of truth" (p. 8). "The real person of truth," he argues, "is one who expresses a genuine willingness to listen to the other as as equal conversation partner" (p. 8). He endorses a resolution "...to engage with the other--the liberal, the Dawinist, the animal rights activist, and the atheist--as an equal partner in dialogue and so to treat each one as a person we can learn from and need to listen to" (p. 11). He's calling "for an enduring truce based on a mutually shared desire to know the truth...a truce rooted in the fact that our deepest conviction ought to be the desire to know the truth, as well as a willingness to see this same conviction in our 'enemies.' For too long we have objectified the dissenting voice at the other end of the battlefield as nothing more than a target of conquest...This book offers the first modest steps toward just such a grand vision" (p. 12).
Chapter Two: Truth is Who You Are.
Here Rauser tells evangelicals that truth is a relationship they have to Jesus. This "means that we need to seek not only to acquire beliefs that are true but also to be truthful people" (p. 14). I wish that some Christians who lie about atheists would take notice.
Chapter Three: If Jesus Were Not the Truth, He'd be the First Person to Tell you to Look Elsewhere.
The problem we all face is confirmation bias. "We are typically quite resistant to examining our bias," which is deferring in favor of our presently held beliefs. "As a result, we often end up letting the confirmation bias run amok" (p. 38). Every Christian, he says, "needs to consider his or her confirmation bias in order to determine whether the evidence really supports the conclusion that he or she is a follower of Christ" (p. 40). Rauser rhetorically asks: "If the objective historical record does not support Christian claims about Christ, then shouldn't Christians be the first to want to know?" (p. 39) When it comes to the problem of evil Rauser says, "Christian leaders, including pastors, teachers, and apologists, frequently fail to acknowledge the depth of the problem" (p. 43).
Chapter Four: Not everything is Black and White.
Rauser explains the common characteristics of indoctrination (or brainwashing) and claims "indoctrination typically leaves critical thinking skills uninhibited in many areas" (p. 58). He argues: "The single most effective way to protect a core set of ideological claims from critical introspection is by positing a simplistic binary opposition between two sides while placing the views we seek to protect on the correct or true side and all views hostile to the core ideology on the incorrect side" (p. 58). Exactly!
Chapter Five: Those I Disagree With Are Probably Not Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immoral.
After describing the rhetoric on both sides between atheists and Christians Rauser tells us that "the only way to break this kind of standoff is by taking the risk of lowering our own rhetorical guns" (p. 90).
Chapter Six: This Conversation Could Change Your Life.
If we are all serious about the truth, he argues, we must risk listening to each other. "Whenever we engage with another person honestly in such a way that we present our own opinions as well as listening to the opinions of others, we are placing ourselves at the risk of the unknown. It could lead to us converting the other, but, for all we know, it could just as well result in the other converting us. That is the final unsettling consequence of a character formed by truth. We just never know which conversation could ultimately change our lives" (p. 100). But we must risk this conversation if we are truly interested in the truth, he rightly argues.
The final four chapters seem to be self-explanatory and written for the smug evangelical Christian who claims to have all of the answers.
Chapter Seven: Not All Liberal Christians are Heretics
Chapter Eight: Not all Darwinists Are Monkeys
Chapter Nine: Not All Animal Rights Activists Are Wackos
Chapter Ten: Not All Atheists Are Fools
The bottom line is as the title to his book suggests, that our intellectual opponents are not as crazy as we might think.
I highly recommend his book. And I am very happy to be co-writing a book with him tentatively titled "God or Godless," since his goal is to know the truth to the point where he is willing to risk a discussion with me, "the other." I likewise welcome this discussion.